The Top 10 Fights in European History

No. 10 - No. 8

By Tim Leidecker Jun 10, 2008
The history of mixed martial arts more or less takes place in three countries: Brazil, Japan and the United States.

Brazil is the cradle of vale tudo, a Portuguese phrase that means "anything goes," which was the more violent and less regulated predecessor of MMA. On the beaches of Rio de Janeiro and in the gyms of São Paulo, boxers, wrestlers and jiu-jitsu practitioners squared off against one another under a limited set of rules as early as the 1920s.

Japan is the homeland of Kakutō, which means "fighting." The Japanese style of shoot wrestling has its origins in Puroresu, the counterpart to what Americans know as professional wrestling. In the mid to late 1980s, pro wrestlers looking for a more realistic style separated themselves from the present scene and founded Shooto, Rings and Pancrase -- three promotions that still exist today.

MMA in the United States has its roots in NHB, or No Holds Barred, events organized by previous UFC owner Semaphore Entertainment Group. SEG paved the way for what began as a spectacle to become a respected and recognized sport by introducing weight classes, gloves, five-minute rounds and a unified set of rules.

While Europe has produced some of the greatest fighters of all time like Bas Rutten (Pictures), Fedor Emelianenko (Pictures) and Mirko "Cro Cop," the northwestern part of the Old World has not been able to make a mark as a fighting continent quite like the three aforementioned countries.

Still, European MMA does have a history that goes back as far as 13 years. This article shines a light on 10 of the most significant fights to take place in England, Holland, Russia and Scandinavia during this time span. The bouts presented are not necessarily the most spectacular or entertaining but instead were relevant for the movement as a whole at the time.

10. Akira Maeda (Pictures) vs. Chris Dolman on Feb. 19, 1995 -- Amsterdam, Holland

Chris Dolman was a European champion in judo in the 1960s and one of the elite few to beat the Russians on their home turf in their national martial art of sambo.

He also ran the biggest security company in Amsterdam. As a result, he employed several bouncers whom he also trained at his dojo. Since his students -- among them Hans Nijman, Joop Kasteel, Dick Vrij, Herman Renting and the Overeem brothers -- were all trained martial artists (mostly wrestlers and kickboxers) themselves, Dolman was searching for a way to test their skills without getting into conflict with the law.

Enter Akira Maeda (Pictures).

The insanely popular pro wrestler at that time was just starting a new project called Rings and looking for teams from all around the world. Dolman knew Maeda from his stint in New Japan Pro Wrestling in the late 70s and agreed to send a selection of his fighters to Japan.

Maeda returned the favor by putting Dolman in charge of Rings Holland and faced him in the first real superfight on European soil in the history of the sport. The bout was a rematch from their first encounter six years earlier, which had taken place under UWF rules. In a highly entertaining scrap, Maeda had emerged the winner via leglock early in the fourth round at Osaka Stadium.

Six years later, Dolman got his revenge.

In the main event of the first Rings Holland show, Dolman defeated the legendary Japanese submission fighter by leglock. Two months later, he retired from active competition at 50.

Looking back, the impact Dolman had on the Dutch fighting scene was outstanding. He not only still runs shows under the Rings banner, he also paved the way to Japan for many of his more popular countrymen like Gilbert Yvel (Pictures), Peter Aerts (Pictures) and Semmy Schilt (Pictures). That is why it is not an overstatement to call Chris Dolman the father of Dutch MMA.

9. Igor Vovchanchyn (Pictures) vs. Paul Varelans on March 30, 1996 -- Kiev, Ukraine

Only months after the first European "free fight" event took place in the Netherlands, Russian promoters followed suit.

The former Soviet Union put its own spin on the sport by holding tournaments in one night that often had 16 or even 32 participants. One of the most star-studded tourneys at that time was the first International Fighting Championship, which took place in the capital of Ukraine in March 1996.

The marquee bout of the night was the semifinal between crowd favorite Igor Vovchanchyn (Pictures) and American trap fighter Paul Varelans. It was a true duel between David and Goliath, as the 6-foot-8, 300-pound Varelans towered over his opponent by 10 inches and outweighed him by more than 100 pounds.

Still, the outcome was the same as in the Bible. Vovchanchyn peppered his much larger foe with strikes on the feet, held his own in the clinch and eventually put him away with a series of punches and kicks at 2:22 of the first round.

Vovchanchyn went on to win that tournament and another six to set a record that is unmatched in the history of the sport. When he stepped into the Pride ring for the first time in October 1998, only two of his previous 25 bouts had gone the distance. He was rightly known as the most dangerous striker in MMA in the 1990s.

8. Semmy Schilt (Pictures) vs. Bob Schrijber (Pictures) on Oct. 22, 2000 -- Haarlem, Holland

The battle between Schilt and Schrijber was a passing of the torch in the Dutch MMA scene around the turn of the millennium. Although Schrijber was just coming off his stint in Pride and had won four out of his last five fights, the 35-year-old was already in the autumn of his career. Schilt, 10 years younger, had just successfully defended his open weight King of Pancrase title twice and was the clear favorite going into the fight.

"Dirty Bob," not only notorious for being one of the dirtiest players in the game but also an avid player of mind games, brought a ladder into the ring and had to climb onto the third rung to look Schilt straight into the eyes during the staredown.

None of that really helped him, though, as Schilt controlled the standup as expected. Schrijber took an incredible amount of punishment in the bout, including Schilt's devastating knee strikes from the clinch. In the end it was a standing guillotine choke that put Schrijber away early in the second round.

Schilt went on to a short stint in the UFC before making Pride his home in Japan and eventually becoming the most dominant kickboxer of the new millennium in K-1.

Schrijber had one last hurrah. He won the M-1 heavyweight title by knocking out heavily favored Russian wrestler Martin Malkhasyan (Pictures) in November 2001.
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